On April 17, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced it was accepting applications for “proposals that align with the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum—entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” —as well as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act and other relevant legislation.” 
Requirements for Applicants
Eligible applicants are “U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses. DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. In addition, applicants must have “proven capacity to implement foreign assistance programs to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights in Cuba” and the “existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders, including private sector partners and NGOs, and have demonstrable experience in administering successful and preferably similar projects. “
The Department anticipates making three to five awards with a “Funding Floor” of $500,000 and “Ceiling” of $2,000,000.
The Department’s Context for Proposals
“For more than sixty years, the Cuban regime has denied its citizens many of the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Political participation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are restricted through tightly controlled, undemocratic elections and by withholding legal status from independent civil society organizations, labor unions, and diverse political parties or movements. The free flow of information and freedom of expression are suppressed by blocking the Cuban peoples’ access to media outlets, and by censoring independent journalists, artists, and other individuals with alternative views. As connectivity slowly increases, the government is also expanding measures to surveil and harass citizens online to further inhibit the free flow of information and to prevent activists from connecting with broader audiences in and outside Cuba.”
“The Cuban government also abuses freedom of religion or belief by restricting the ability of faith communities to congregate and worship outside of the state-sanctioned Council of Churches. Cuban state security regularly threatens, harasses, arbitrarily arrests, detains, and restricts the movement of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists on-island. Human rights organizations report more than 100 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, most sentenced under fabricated charges like “contempt” of Cuban authorities or “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” This repression is financed in large part by the labor exploitation of medical workers and other service providers, who receive only a fraction of the salaries paid by third countries for their services and often face threats from their Cuban government handlers to discourage them from absconding. Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions.”
“DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the above-mentioned rights and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil and political rights. DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, and other individual characteristics.”
“DRL seeks proposals that support Cuban-led initiatives that promote the human rights of all in Cuba—particularly the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, expression, political participation and religion and belief—and strengthen and expand the reach of those initiatives in Cuba by focusing on issues that resonate with Cuban citizens. Competitive proposals may also support the documentation of human rights abuses, including for use in domestic and international advocacy, and increase the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. Proposals should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging and developing contingencies for challenges to program implementation. Proposals should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society. Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that address recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts while leading to long-term sustainable change. (Emphasis added.)
“DRL prefers innovative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to ongoing efforts by other entities. This does not exclude projects that clearly build on existing successful projects in a new way. DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined proposal in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant. The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments. Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by Cuban civil society organizations.”
“Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries. Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure that beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.” (Emphases added.)
DRL also has a long list of activities that “typically are NOT considered: “The provision of humanitarian assistance; English language instruction; Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware; Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships; External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six weeks; Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns; Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society; Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives; Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact; Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba; [and] Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.”
Finally there will be no funding of “programs . . . that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.”
This is yet another of the weird and misguided U.S. public announcements of U.S. government-financed unilateral programs in Cuba without the cooperation of the Cuban government and indeed with the latter’s opposition and hence the need for these programs to be under-cover. The Department, therefore, highlights the need for applications to consider “contingencies for challenges to program implementation” and the “practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities.” In short, this is a fatally flawed idea.
How would the U.S. government react if Russia were to publicly announce that it was soliciting proposals for under-cover hacking of the U.S. election of 2020?
This proposal also continues to embrace the flawed claims that Cuba “abuses freedom of religion or belief” and that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program constitutes illegal forced labor, as discussed in many previous posts to this blog. This proposal also continues to fail to understand why a small, poor nation of 11 people has rational fears of its much larger and more powerful neighbor to the north with a long history of hostility towards the island.
 State Dep’t, Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): DRL FY19: Cuba Proposals (April 17, 2020).
 See these sections (“Cuban Human rights,” “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.”) in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.